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For what it's worth, there was some private discussion with the moderators before this was posted, and the abstract idea of such a question was approved. I haven't actually read the resulting question, but will now.
I would like to expand on my comment on the thread, which may go to answering an_mo_user's comments.
I think that this question is absolutely not suitable for MO. It is not a question about research-level mathematics, it does not have an answer that is independently verifiable, and it is unlikely that the answers provided will be useful later on. Thus, it could be closed as "off topic", "not a real question", "subjective and argumentative", or "too localised" and I would agree with all of those reasons.
I've argued strenuously that such questions do not belong on MO, and that if there is a need for a place for such questions then we should build that new place rather than dilute the amazingness of MO by mixing them in. I disagree with the theory that since such a place doesn't exist then we may as well use MO for it because the new place will never get built while MO accepts such questions.
But this "question" has one feature which trumps all of the above. That is the immediacy of the problem. This "question" cannot wait until a better place is found. So whilst I realise that I am opening myself up to charges of inconsistency (did I ever claim to be consistent?) and double-standards (ditto?), I will not vote to close this question.
Where to draw the line? We cannot allow arbitrary "social action" questions on MO, so here's my first draft at criteria as to when such would be (reluctantly) allowed:
I'd also like to start by saying that I also sympathize with what seems to be a shocking and devastating situation, and that I hope we, the mathematical community, will react promptly and appropriately to pursue a satisfactory resolution.
After reading this meta discussion, I find myself largely agreeing with an_mo_user, and also with Andrew Stacey's argument that the question is not suitable for MO. Andrew's argument that the problem is immediate strikes me as disingenuous; there are a lot of problems faced by mathematicians that are immediate, but which one would clearly regard as not being important enough to tolerate on MO. I submit that the real reason Andrew and others want to keep the question open is simple: it's purely a feeling of emotional solidarity with the affected individuals. While I feel the same emotional solidarity, I am wary of allowing emotions to trump reason in this sort of situation. If there were no other channel for getting the word out, or if voting to close the question at this stage would cause the question to be deleted so that people could no longer read it, then I wouldn't vote to close. As matters stand, however, I don't think that keeping the question open serves any useful purpose. The news is out now, and further answers seem unlikely to be useful.
Therefore I will vote to close. I want to emphasize that I do not intend my vote to close to be interpreted as a lack of sympathy with the poster's plight; if anything, I want to take a stand for the point of view that people should decide whether to vote to close this sort of question on the basis of, well, whether they think the question should be closed, and not out of a fear that their action will be interpreted as a hostile or unsympathetic gesture.
I want to modify a statement of Gil's: An abstract question about how to react in a situation where a mathematical unit is closed and tenured faculty are fired is also appropriate on MathOverflow. My first question I made on MathOverflow I thought was useful when made abstractly, and would do no harm if I left out details.
The current question is not the case. May Tilman forgive me for sounding unsympathetic (or at least take solace in the fact that I signed his petition and probably would not have done so if he had not posted a link to it from MathOverflow), but his question is NOT abstract, and I fear MathOverflow will become the repository of specfic posts from soon-to-be jobseekers. If his question had been more abstract, it could be taken as a representative example, many good answers could be gathered, and anyone in the future could refer to this question and its answers for what to do, or refer to it as a base case and then repost their question with important differences outlined. I will not list further faults of the question as correcting them at this point would have little impact.
To refine my comment to the question, the people in the community who participate in MathOverflow must either agree to accept further such type of posting, or (as with homework, not-quite-research-level questions, or duplicates) find a place to redirect such questions. Perhaps Peter Krautzberger can find a place for it at Planet MathOverflow?
I virtually cast a vote to close, so consider my vote as echoing Timothy Chow's vote (whose reasons and motivation surrounding this question resonate with me) and doing whatever cancellation of a vote to keep open is appropriate.
Gerhard Paseman, 2011.04.28
I think I should add a comment about why I went ahead and voted to close despite someone's request to cancel out the first vote to close with their own. In general, I can understand that the vote-cancellation mechanism can save time, so that one does not need to go through the whole process of re-opening a closed question. However, in this particular case, I don't think that efficiency is the real issue; since no votes to close were actually cast before mine, pre-emptively canceling a vote to close was surely not an attempt at efficiency. It looks a lot like an emotional gesture, intended to express solidarity with Tilman's plight and to intimidate anyone who might "dare" to vote to close. What I see happening is that there are people (e.g., an_mo_user) who want to vote to close but are afraid of being stigmatized. Should we regard an_mo_user's comments here as being the "first" vote to close that is cancelled out, leaving the door open for me to cast the "second" vote to be cancelled out? Or do we have to force an_mo_user to post an official vote to close to be cancelled out? When the issue is so emotionally charged, I don't think the vote-cancellation mechanism works properly. Therefore I decided to do what seemed to be the simplest thing, namely to cast a vote to close. The worst that can happen is that the question gets closed and gets promptly re-opened (and even that doesn't seem likely to happen, given the way things are going).
@Andy: Of course anyone has the right to ignore it.
Perhaps markvs has misinterpreted the term "closed" to mean "permanently shut down" instead of "various facilities temporarily unavailable" - they have an English page describing the situation here. Pretty much every library within about 400 kilometers of the epicenter sustained some damage, but they obviously got shaken much more in Sendai than we did in the Tokyo area. At any rate, from the standpoint of job security, it doesn't seem to be a valid example for comparison with the situation at VU Amsterdam. Tilman is asking about ways to convince other humans to change their minds (and not to increase the budget, but to shift priorities), and the fact that actions like petitions and letter-writing campaigns are even conceivably effective is an essential difference from earthquakes and tsunamis.
We've discussed the convention of "votes to keep open" on meta before. Ryan links to the relevant thread above. It's true that there's nothing about this in the FAQ, and that that thread discusses a number of different proposals. Nevertheless, this convention has been more or less in practice for a few months now, and it's silly to deny its existence. You're allowed to ignore it, of course, but I think at this point it is at least somewhat rude to do so. (Of course, often being somewhat rude is a fine course of action.) You can certainly start a new thread here on meta to propose that we cancel this convention --- there is a strong argument that it hasn't worked out so well, and the clutter is not worth the prevention of the open/close cycles we were seeing previously. But, as a simple matter of fact, this convention exists.
I found my way back to this ancient meta thread because of the recent (closed) "Lost soul" question, and was surprised to see Andy Putman's response to me. I went and read the other meta thread on vote trading just now and saw no "consensus" about vote trading, or any indication that it's a "rule" that no one has the "right" to ignore. Nor is it a "policy"; Andrew Stacey made a good distinction between a "policy" and a "convention" and vote-trading is at most the latter. It also doesn't "disenfranchise" anyone to violate the convention since if the question gets closed, the vote-trader can always fall back on the old system of voting to reopen.
So I'm not sure why Andy Putman felt insulted. Perhaps it was because he perceived that I was trying to read his mind (in which case I'm probably insulting him again now with this sentence). I can't see that I've done anything wrong, or acted uncivilly, and I still think that in the particular case of this highly-emotionally-charged question, it was important for someone to cast an actual vote to close. That Andy, in my opinion, overreacted to what was at worst a violation of a recent and not universally known or accepted convention, just strengthens my feeling that something about this question caused people's emotions to trump reason, and that it was important to try to correct that somehow.